Concerns about EARTH A New Wild’s Messages About Grassland Conservation

I know that many of you watched the first two episodes of EARTH A New Wild last week on Public Television, including Episode 2: Plains.  I watched as well, and while I was glad for the attention paid to grasslands, I also had some concerns about the content of the Plains episode.  If you didn’t see it, you can watch it here.

The recent measles outbreaks in the United States have been the topic of much discussion lately.  While there is a great deal of finger pointing going on regarding vaccinations, I worry that a bigger issue is being ignored; in today’s noisy world, it is very difficult for the public to know what information is based on good science and what is not. The growth of the anti-vaccination movement is a good showcase of the issue, but the problem is much broader, spanning topics from climate change to dietary supplements.  It often seems that anyone with charisma and/or a loud voice can gain credibility and a following, especially if they are promoting a message that feeds people’s fears or tells them what they want to hear.  Cutthroat politics and a desire among media outlets for provocative stories both stoke the fire, and there is almost no way for the average citizen to sort truth from propaganda.

As a scientist who spends a lot of time and effort communicating about science, this is something I really struggle with.  I try really hard to present only the best information I can, and to distinguish between facts, assumptions, and opinions.  At the same time, I do have an agenda – I want to see prairies conserved, and I feel strongly that factors such as biodiversity, habitat heterogeneity, and ecological resilience are critically important.  While there is a lot of research that backs up those assumptions, I still have to acknowledge my biases, and I try to be careful not to pass off opinions as science.  It’s very difficult.

All of this is leads back to my main topic of this post; my disappointment in the Plains episode of EARTH A New Wild that aired on Public Television last week.  I was disappointed with the program because I thought it presented a very one-sided perspective on some ideas, and their promoter, Allan Savory, that are very complex and widely disputed. To be fair, the narrator of the series, M. Sanjayan, did mention that Savory and some of his theories are controversial, but not that numerous scientists and studies have actually contradicted those theories.  Instead, he appeared to endorse Savory’s ideas, and much of the episode explored how they could be applied in grasslands around the world.  I welcome any attention paid to prairie conservation issues, but I felt the Plains episode led people to believe that the strategies it advocated were better supported by science than they really are.

My intent with this blog post is not to discredit or disprove the theories and ideas promoted by Savory or the Plains episode.  Instead, I want to provide additional information that I hope will help round out some of the topics presented in the episode and facilitate a productive discussion among those who watched it.  The following are a few pieces of information I feel are important to be aware of as you consider the potential value and application of the ideas presented in last week’s show.

Controversy over Savory’s Big Ideas

  • Allan Savory gave a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talk back in 2013 that gained a lot of attention because of its assertion that “planned grazing” was necessary to reverse desertification and climate change. In fact, he claimed that his method of intensive, concentrated grazing is the only viable solution to reverse those two processes.  The most specific rebuttal (among many) to that talk was published by five eminent grassland scientists in a Society for Range Management journal (Rangelands 35(5):72-74. 2013).  The rebuttal addresses each of the main claims made in the TED talk and refutes them.  Unfortunately, the article is not available online to those who don’t have a subscription allowing access to SRM publications.  A brief summary and links to some responses to the rebuttal are included at the end of this post if you’re interested.
  • There were many other critiques and rebuttals of Savory’s TED talk, including one by George Monbiot in The Guardian and another by James E. McWilliams in Slate.  Both echo many of the points made in the Rangelands rebuttal, and also provide links to other information, including numerous scientific studies that refute both Savory’s TED talk claims and the broader success of his Holistic Management grazing practices.  You can read a rebuttal to Monbiot on the website of the Savory Institute.
  • To be fair, it’s important to separate Savory’s “bolder” theories about desertification and climate change from his more moderate Holistic Management and planned grazing ideas, which have been incorporated by a segment of the ranching community across the world.  Among other things, Holistic Management encourages careful planning and monitoring, which is certainly positive, but its proponents also tend to promote the use of higher stocking rates than many rangeland scientists feel are sustainable.  The results of scientific studies evaluating the results of Holistic Management and planned grazing have been decidely mixed.  Some studies have supported Savory’s theories, but many others showed that planned grazing either didn’t deliver the promised benefits or performed less well than other grazing systems.   As is typical in the scientific process, more data needs to be collected and research projects need to be repeated to resolve the inconsistent findings so far.  In the meantime, however, it seems premature to conclude that Savory’s grazing strategies are obviously and significantly better than other options.
  • Allan Savory is vocal about his distaste for the use of fire for managing grasslands and excludes it from his land management recommendations. Coincidentally, there was no mention of fire in the entire Plains episode, despite it being one of the three major forces that control grassland ecosystems (along with grazing and drought).  An example of Savory’s thoughts on fire can be found in a quote from An Overview of Holistic Management and Holistic Decision Making from the Savory Institute’s website, which says that fire “pollutes the atmosphere and exposes soil contributing to desertification/climate change.”  Climate change and its contributing factors comprise a very complex web, and I sure can’t say that fire is not part of that web, but it’s also important to consider the way fire affects carbon in the atmosphere, a topic I covered in an earlier blog post.  Of course, fire can have both negative and positive consequences, as can any management tool, depending upon the way it is applied.  However, most people working in prairie conservation feel that prescribed fire is a very important tool, and there is abundant research that supports that view.  One synthesis of that research can be found here, and Chapter 4 (page 29) deals with central North America, in particular.

The Complex Issue of Prairie Dogs

  • During the segment on prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets, the Plains episode highlighted the ability of prairie dogs to increase the health of grasslands. They create habitat for other species by burrowing, and grazing/clipping of vegetation by prairie dogs can increase the forage quality of grassland areas.  All of that is true and important.  However, research also shows that prairie dogs can change the composition of a plant community in ways that lower forage quality and/or quantity available for livestock and other animals.  As a result, there is strong evidence that prairie dogs can compete with livestock for forage.
  • I was disappointed that the Plains episode focused only on the positive aspects of prairie dogs, especially because it also talked about (and showed) ranchers working to eradicate prairie dogs without really explaining why.  Balancing the ecological benefits of prairie dogs with the economic impacts they can have to ranchers is a key component of prairie conservation in North America.  It is a complex and multi-faceted issue that requires understanding and empathy on all sides if it is going to be resolved. Here are links to two recent research publications that highlight the complexities of the prairie dog issue.  The first is publicly accessible, but the second is only available to those who have journal access subscriptions.  Thank you to my friend Stephen Winter for providing these citations.

Both Savory and Sanjayan are charismatic speakers, and very effective salesmen.  The ideas presented in the Plains episode of EARTH A New Wild are attractive because they appeal to our romantic sense of balance in nature, and imply that we can play an important role in re-setting that balance.  I agree that large predators are key components of ecosystems, and that we should find ways to live with them when it’s possible, and attempt to replicate their role when it’s not.  However, I felt the Plains episode unnecessarily focused on a very narrow set of theories and proposals for grassland conservation; a set built upon widely and vigorously challenged assumptions.  I am very optimistic about our ability to conserve our grasslands and other ecosystems, but doing so will require robust and well-rounded conversations and a wide range of strategies.  As we continue those conversations, it will be imperative that we are upfront with each other about which strategic options are based on good science and which are not.

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Here are the main points from the rebuttal to Savory’s TED talk that was published in the journal Rangelands.  The rebuttal essentially focuses on Savory’s presentation piece by piece, including:

1) Pointing out the fallacy of Savory’s statements that all non-forested lands are degraded and that rangeland science fails to either understand the reasons for or to be able to mitigate that degradation;

2) Laying out the physical impossibilities of Savory’s claim that changing the way grasslands are managed could solve climate change;

3) Pointing out that photos were the primary evidence used to support Savory’s claims of restoring degraded grasslands and that several of the photos he used either had a different grazing history than Savory claimed or were from a completely different location than Savory stated.

4) Refuting Savory’s statements about the benefits of hoof action breaking up biological crusts in desert grasslands  to increase water infiltration by pointing to the well-studied ecological roles (protecting soil from wind erosion and carbon loss) played by those same crusts.

For those of you who do have access to the Rangelands journal, I hope you will read not only this rebuttal article, but also a response from Richard Teague and the subsequent response to that critique.  In addition to providing context around Savory’s climate change and desertification theories, the series of three short articles also provides an excellent synopsis of the many arguments among scientists trying to understand the complexities of grazing management.

 

 

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
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27 Responses to Concerns about EARTH A New Wild’s Messages About Grassland Conservation

  1. beingbodeker says:

    My parents live in Southeastern Arizona. I am not a trained scientist, but it seems quite obvious to me the detrimental effects intensive cattle grazing has had on the landscape there. My father said the lands used to be covered in grasses, but most of his area has now transitioned to lonely shrublands. I understand the grasses can be restored in areas that haven’t completely gone to shrub, but what is the fate of those that have? Upon first reading your post, I was a bit confused by the use of your measles outbreak analogy (morning fog, I suppose), but after reading Monibot’s blog post–makes total sense. Thank you for this post.

    • There is an abundance of literature available on Google Scholar on the past, present, and future changes occurring in arid and semi-arid desertic grasslands.

      What a lot of people seem to forget (Savory especially), is the damages done to the arid and semiarid grasslands within desert regions are still suffering from overgrazing; largely the overgrazing of the mad rush of the late 1800s, though many areas had been continuously/heavily grazed for some 300 years since the Spaniards first entered the region.

      Overgrazing today is a much different process (when viewed in concert with the below listed considerations) and often swifter process than it was 100 or 200 years ago. That is one reason why Savory’s method won’t work in desert grasslands.

      Desert Grassland Changes
      1. Soil structure and chemistry have changed (this has reduced soil carbon storage capacity – a big point Savory likes to hang his hat on).
      2. Cation exchange capacity has been altered
      3. Herbaceous vegetation cover has changed from mostly perennial to mostly annual classes, because that is what a particular site wants to be
      4. Former grasslands (as you have noted) have changed to:
      A. Exotic patchy monocultures or majority monocultures. King Ranch Bluestem, Buffelgrass, and Lehmann’s Lovegrass are the top three exotic grass invaders in desert grasslands
      B. Very patchy grasslands with shrub interspaces
      C. Other areas have changed to shrublands with continuous bare ground interspaces
      D. Areas of bare ground/desert pavement

      Sites similar to C & D are largely out of reach of anthropogenic restoration goals. Sites similar to B, C, D, with 1-3 work very strongly against Savory’s methods and many of our current restoration methods. Sites similar to A will maybe favor a highly altered version of Savory’s methods, but at the expense of increasing the coverage of those exotic grasses. Sites similar to A should be targeted for restoration and maintenance of at least 50-60% native plant communities with the rest in exotic coverage (a very realistic goal). More cattle is not the answer, obviously.

      While desert grasslands 100-200 years ago certainly had more graminoid coverage than today, that is not to say there were never shrublands or shrub/grasslands. Creosotebush (Larrea tridentata) has been in the Desert SW for some 12,000 years.

      I’ve never understood why people jump on the Savory bandwagon – lots of false hopes and tremendous misinformation. I suppose its a feel good thing for people who don’t understand science, climate, and ecology, but want to try and do something good for the land.

      • beingbodeker says:

        Thank you for your response! Appreciate the time you took to answer my question. Your last thought is spot-on: my own children watched the show & felt like the “miracle” the “barefoot man” (their words) touted was awesome & wanted to know why prairie managers in Iowa (where we live) are not using his methods. Too bad miraculous solutions don’t often pan out…

  2. Jim in IA says:

    Thanks for this response to the show, Chris. I watched it and felt a lot was missing. What they presented was too simplified. You point out that grassland management is a much more complex endeavor.

    I will watch more carefully the episode on forests. My forester friend may have a lot to say about it.

  3. Cindy Crosby says:

    Thank you for a very provocative and thoughtful post. I’ll be sharing this with my prairie restoration team, and it will provide some good fuel for discussion.

  4. elfinelvin says:

    Thanks for this great post. Having no science background makes it very difficult to know how much to believe in shows like this. Even if I had access to the papers you’ve mentioned, I would have a real problem understanding them. This is precisely why I follow your blog. Having a bias is only human, mine probably coincides with yours to some degree. You write in language I can understand. Being with the Nature Conservancy doesn’t hurt. And you take great pictures! I feel I can trust you. And I keep searching the web for others to trust. It ain’t easy!

  5. Anne says:

    Great analysis, Chris. I actually had that video queued up to watch in the next few days. Now I know what I’m getting into. I can’t believe they totally excluded fire from prairie management!

  6. Kim Shannon says:

    Thank you Chris for your input about the Plains episode of this TV program. I began wondering about the information presented as soon as the show started and know that it flies in the face of much that I have learned and seen undertaken here in Oklahoma. The exclusion of fire was particularly disappointing to me.

  7. Patricia Mettenbrink says:

    thank you Chris for shedding some much needed light about this program!
    So very true about the charisma and speaking ability to draw the multitudes in to false teachings. It’s amazing what can be published/ broadcast without scientific research backing their so called ‘theories’
    Thanks again for the wonderful work you do for us here in south central Nebraska!!!

  8. bennysplace says:

    This is a great post and I thank you. It is important for people to know that the loudest voice is not necessarily the most correct.

  9. Matt Miller says:

    Great post Chris. So often, nature shows present a simplified view and that’s unfortunate. In the case of prairie dogs: it seems that this argument is as much about values as science (as is so often the case!). After all, the prairie dog isn’t exactly rapidly gaining ground across the grasslands. And so often the prairie dog is vilified, and the subject of poisoning, varmint hunting and state regulations that forbid them on your land. We can look at if they compete with livestock, sure.

    But sometimes the suggestion is that they’re “bad for grasslands.” By whose standards? Surely historically they occupied much wider expanses in much greater numbers. They weren’t bad for anything. They just were.

    And so: the question of “how many prairie dogs?” can never entirely be answered by science.

    It can only be answered by a complex mix of worldviews and values. The best articulation of this distinction (albeit on another topic, that of native and introduced fishes) was made in Anders Halverson’s book An Entirely Synthetic Fish. Conservation is always, always, always as much about values as science.

  10. Flying Dutchman says:

    I enjoyed the show. I think the point of the series is not to validate specific methods for conservation. Rather, it is to highlight our role in the “New Wild” and to give hope that we can co-exist with nature given sufficient enlightenment. Of course the show isn’t going to be a 15 hour dissertation on the pros and cons of various rangeland management techniques geard toward rangeland scientists. Sorry….I don’t mean to sound cranky.

    • c michel says:

      not cranky, your is the voice of common sense….personally i took the show to be highlighting a relatively new use theory that offers possibilities worth at least being looked at… i didn’t expect, so wasn’t disappointed that an hour long pbs show didn’t explain and then solve the problem of desertification…but it did send me looking for more information and it is promoting discussion…i would assume this was the intent.

  11. Jeannie Patton says:

    Thanks, Chris. I add my voice to those of the others who appreciate your thoughtful response and redirection. I, too, was disappointed at the lack of mention of fire as an important part of ecosystem health (my area of expertise), and that absence prompted me to question other very broad statements made throughout both programs last week. I’m generally skeptical about what is presented as “science” in a popular entertainment form, and my skepticism was well-founded during parts of the program. Of necessity, complex studies, research and on-the-ground experiences are crystalized, and often diluted, to make points, serve agendas or underscore themes that non-scientific “general” audiences can appreciate. That said, it’s a disservice to let the agenda trump recognition of controversey. I expected a bit of a white-wash, given the dramatic platform the series rests on, but having to backtrack and correct misconceptions or biases is more than I signed up for. Let the discussions continue.

  12. Patrick says:

    I’ll add my thanks to the chorus of others for your post, and agree with yours and others’ comments and criticisms. One topic they did broach reasonably well was a potential acceptance of apex predators on the landscape and the ecology of fear as a natural and useful mechanism for moving grazers across the landscape. In the absence of predators though, I wonder how widely implemented the type of rotational grazing that was profiled on that western ranch would be, because it seems quite labor intensive to follow around and drive the cattle as much as that segment suggested. Certainly would be nice on public rangeland though to keep the cattle from trampling riparian zones.

    • Rex Peterson says:

      I know some ranchers who do practice the very high density – short duration grazing system; some even have adjustments to avoid successive year grazing on the same plot at the same growth stage. However, I also know of University of Nebraska studies that show that as few as four cells properly managed with grazing deferred on one cell each year, some dormant season grazing for all cells and rotation of the cells from year to year will give almost the same results as Savory’s methods for most native range with respect to productivity, plant vigor and range health. I know many ranchers who use variations of this system. And I know many ranchers who practice season long, continuous grazing with various range quality results from poor to excellent.

      Some ranchers have been able to move cattle on public lands simply by showing up and pressuring them appropriately. The happy hiker and dog, whom the cattle confuse with predators, may undo the rancher’s work in those situations. There have been studies in Oregon where the recent spread of wolves has resulted not only in reduced growth and fertility of the cattle, but also avoidance of some areas of the range while overgrazing safer areas.

  13. James McGee says:

    I’m just glad Chris found someone who makes assumptions that are bigger and statements that are more unsupported than me. :)

    I must also say I love the irony of your post when it is considered against the organization that was thanked at the end of the film.

    On a more serious note, I wanted to offer up speculation that the movement of large herbivores could have had a significant impact on the transport of nutrients in grasslands. Many migrating animals travel very long distances. When they move they are transporting nutrients. Think of it as being similar to salmon and the Pacific Northwest forests; accept in this case we are talking about herbivores and grasslands. Our contemporary method of range management prevents this movement. Could our compartmentalized management regime be leading to a gradual depletion of resources which tends to leave our grasslands depleted or in the worst cases turns them into desert?

    • James McGee says:

      Hey Chris, I wanted to apologize for the irony comment above. It was only later that I realized how much something like the “EARTH A New Wild” could set back both the relationships and progress you have worked so hard to develop while partnering with the local ranching community.

  14. Rex Peterson says:

    I suspect the importance of large herbivores migrating may be over rated with respect to the prairie evolution and the function of predators may be misunderstood.
    First, God had to make flies to move buffalo because nothing else really makes them move and that includes wolves.
    Second, the buffalo may have moved in large ovals between the several great rivers on the plains, but elk and especially deer seem to be almost non-migratory.
    Third, a very large portion of plant growth is consumed by insects and agents of decay. This became obvious to me during the 2012 drought. We clip our pastures to measure total forage production and plan to harvest half. In September 2012 we had still standing in our pastures 1/4 of normal production available to graze. In March, we went to the pasture and all the forage down to the grass crowns was gone – totally harvested and then some without any livestock.

    The challenge for a show like Earth the new wild is what would stories would you tell if you just had one hour and a really big audience opportunity?

  15. dgarriso says:

    Hey Chris, thanks for making us aware of this video.

    From observing those who claim to apply Holistic Management (HM) principles, their constant message is to “manage for what you want”. I have found it difficult to read the HM book (still haven’t finished it) and have never taken the time to attend a HM class. With that said, I find it easy to find folks who explain their management in holistic terms. Often they have achieved results similar to what I “want”. In turn it is simple for me to apply some of their management ideas to my specific site. See L Hunter Lovins in The Guardian rebuttal to George Monbiot. (http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/aug/19/grazing-livestock-climate-change-george-monbiot-allan-savory)

    As for managing for resilience… the first time I heard the phrase “ecological resilience”, was at a field workshop with Terry Gompert, past long time HM Educator. The HM folks moved on from “resilience” to “regenerative”. Right before Terry passed away, his mantra was chaos, “ecological systems thrive on chaos”. Currently the folks who speak in terms of HM have moved on from “regenerative” to “Antifragile” (see Nassim Nicholas Taleb). Rather than manage a prairie to be resilient, how about manage for a system that is Anti-Fragile? To achieve an Antifragile system, Taleb argues there is more upside if the system is exposed to shocks. If you deprive the system of stressors or chaos you have managed for Fragile. When the unpredictable Black Swan event arrives, do you want a resilient or Anti-Fragile system?

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Doug, thanks for the thoughtful response. I agree with you that many HM folks tend to be careful and introspective managers, and that’s definitely a good thing. I find that I have different objectives than many of them (especially those aiming mainly for grass-dominated pastures) but that is not a condemnation of HM at all, just different ideas of what to manage for. There are others with whom my objectives are very similar. There are lots of ways to achieve biological diversity and ecological resilience, and HM can certainly help get there if those are the objectives.

      I’m glad to hear Terry was talking about resilience. I liked him, though we certainly saw the world differently – especially in terms of bringing in new species to prairie ecosystems (he was a big fan of Garrison Creeping Foxtail, for example, which is a pretty nasty invasive plant along the Platte). I think the way I think of ecological resilience is very similar to the antifragile system you’re talking about. A resilient system can maintain its integrity despite many different kinds of shocks. But it’s also plastic, and its appearance can be very different from year to year as it responds to what’s being thrown at it – through it all, though, it maintains its identity and basic function as a prairie (or whatever ecological system it is). Here’s more on ecological resilience, if you’re interested: https://prairieecologist.com/2011/05/09/ecological-resilience-in-prairies-part-1/

      • dgarriso says:

        Chris thanks for directing me to those posts. Very good stuff as usual! I want to manage so when the invasive shows up I laugh at it knowing that my system will handle the stress rather than where a fragile system will succumb to the stress. I am not there yet. My head says my management is there, but my heart screams “save the prairie, get the herbicide!” Another recent challenge that I am working with is trying to implement opposites. If in the past we implement stress X and we know the result, what is the opposite of X? What result will we see from the opposite of X? Again this takes a little head work, but to put into practice I have to overcome the emotions. Keep challenging us.

  16. Allison says:

    I caught the EARTH episode when it aired and agree with everything you said in your post. What was represented is too surficial, like everything about the environment in the media. The situation is simply too complex for a 1 hour show. As someone whose done a lot of public involvement regarding the human-environment interaction it’s very difficult to explain to the the general public why some species (e.g. the groundhog) are worth studying, let alone protecting. It’s plain difficult to get them to care about the environment in the first place outside of their immediate zone of influence. Most just care about the economic impacts. We have to manage society’s expectations to “have it all” while balancing the natural environment, economics, public policy, and socio-cultural dynamics within a system. Unfortunately, that is a very rare occurrence. All we can do is to keep trying.

  17. Amy Erickson says:

    I was also kind of concerned about some of the stuff the host said in the Plains episode. I recall him saying something like, “As an ecologist, I HATE cattle”. That’s very ignorant. As an ecologist, especially one working on the North American plains, he should understand that a huge percentage of grasslands are privately owned and used for cattle ranching. The Plains can’t be saved with the attitude that “cows are bad”,. That alienates a HUGE segment of the population – ranchers and rural folks – who have a tremendous ability to protect grasslands. When an ecologist says “I hate cattle” that sends the message of a false dochotomy – either we have wildlife and wild places, or we have agriculture. That is an ignorant statement, especially in 2015. It’s the old problem of “city folk” telling ranchers and landowners that they are doing thigns wrong – well, the “city folk” might technically be right, but that kind of attitude gets them stonewalled and actually hurts their ability to improve conditions on rangelands. We can have both cattle and wildlife together – in fact we MUST have both – to protect the plains, especially in the West. If we are forcing people to choose between cattle and wildlife, guess what’s going to happen? Most of the land will go to cattle, because a large number of people depends on ranching as a main source of income. There is no sense in making people angry about cattle ranchers and western landowners – when the host of a TV show says “As an ecologist, I HATE cattle” what kind of message does that send to the viewers, especially those that may not have an ecology background or limited knowledge on the subject? It polarizes people and forces them to pick a side, when the truth is a middle-ground compromise. We need to send the message of coexistance and using cattle as a holistic management tool, otherwise there truly is no hope for grasslands. Cattle are not going anywhere. Alienate the ranchers and landowners, and wildlife loses – every time.

    Regardless of your opinions on cattle, you HAVE to come to terms with the fact that they are here, and they will always be here. Let’s stop with the “us versus them” mentality – it slows progress and ultimately hurts the environmentalist’s position. Cattle shouldn’t be seen as a scourge that must be removed from the landscape (even if that is your opinion) – maybe they should be seen more as a stumbling block that might slow grassland recovery down but are not an insurmountable problem – cattle can actually improve grassland health and become an important part of the ecosystem when properly utilized as a management tool.

  18. steve says:

    I’m late catching up, having been away for a bit, but would like to weigh in. First of all, I agree with Amy on the ignorance of the hosts ‘as an ecologist, I hate cattle” statement. It makes ranchers think all ecologists are narrowminded and ignorant. It’s the effect of grazing that is critically needed, not which species does it. While the program focused on plains, I would like to point out that herbivory was more critical for grasslands and grassland wildlife from the midgrass prairie east to the Atlantic than in the plains. Grazing in the eastern U.S. is almost exclusively on introduced grasses and is so intensive that there is no usable cover for wildlife. Similarly, very little native grasslands remain and that that does isn’t grazed but in no more hospitable for grassland wildlife than the former. Ironically, the grassland wildlife hit it’s peak in the eastern tallgrass regions after EuroAmericans introduced cattle because they kept the grasses shorter and open enough for heath hens, greater prairie-chickens and bobwhite quail to survive in them whereas they could not when the tall grasses were no grazed. This lasted until the mid-1900s when introduced grasses and legumes and heavier grazing pressure finally eliminated the native grasslands. Introduction of tractors replace draft animals and the need for 50 million acres of grassland, beginning the demise of grassland wildlife. Despite numerous programs and plans to restore habitat for these in agricultural settings, they fail because the habitat that produced grassland wildlife, grazed native grasses and forbs, is not being replaced and remnant native grasslands are not being grazed.

    If the majority of ecologists and wildlife biologists and managers ‘hate cattle’ their ignorance is wildlife’s worst enemy. We must have collaboration within institutions of learning to enlighten forage agronomists on the basic needs of grassland wildlife and wildlife biologists/ecologists on how to restore grazing to it’s beneficial role. Until this happens, grassland wildlife are doomed.

    One last comment on Savory and fire. What do you think happens to cedars with high density grazing? They only are smaller, not killed. Fire must be used to control species that are fire controlled as well as those that are fire dependent. Grazing is not a substitute but a compatible compliment.

  19. Blayr says:

    Like you, I like to see grasslands receiving worldwide publicity, they need it. There is too much emphasis on forests and planting trees, no one is ever taught about prairies/grasslands, fire and how grazing, if done correctly, does positively impact wildlife and plant species. I wanted to give this video the benefit of the doubt, but some things the guy said about how “as a conservationist he hated cows” and “he was taught cattle were bad for wildlife” I began to wonder where he received his education. Grazing is a part of the ecological system, like it has been for thousands of years. I do understand many people over graze, which can be detrimental to the health of ecosystems. However, to hear this man saying cows and grazing is bad and he was taught to hate it makes me wonder why they chose this guy do to the portion on plains. He obviously isn’t educated on this ecosystem. And where’s the fire? They talked about bison being the historical grazers, Native Americans didn’t herd them around, they followed fire.

    However, I did like the positive attention being brought to predators, as they always seem to get the brunt of things. People don’t realize how necessary they are.

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